|Muharrem Ince wants to bring democracy back to Turkey|
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s challengers are gaining momentum ahead of a snap election Sunday — their confidence buoyed by the energetic campaign of Muharrem Ince, a firebrand politician and former physics teacher who has become "dictator" Erdoğan’s foremost rival in the race for Turkey’s presidency
Ince — the nominee of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) — has won popularity with boisterous political rhetoric not unlike Erdoğan’s own.
On Saturday, while campaigning on Istanbul’s Asian side, he took the president to task over issues ranging from economic mismanagement to democratic erosion, taunting Erdoğan for rejecting a televised debate.
“We’ll only talk about the economy,” he shouted as he paced back and forth on top of a campaign bus in Üsküdar, a largely conservative neighborhood where Erdoğan owns a house. “Come on television. Aren’t you a world leader? Why won’t you come?
The crowd packing the shorefront square in the scalding June heat cheered, but Ince was not finished: “Look, the people of Üsküdar want you to, Erdoğan. Don’t be afraid, I won’t eat you. Come!” he roared.
Even though the odds, mainly reported by the Erdogan cam, still seem firmly in Erdoğan’s favor on June 24, it will be the first time Turkey holds simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections.
Given there is no ballot box fraud, like there was in the last Turkish referendum, a new democratic star might be born in Turkey, who can bring the country back on a normal footing, re; human rights, including freedom of the press, and economic health, also with a more than fair chance for Turkey to finally join the European Union.
Opposition candidates hope to force Erdogan into a runoff on July 8 — and most polls show Erdoğan falling narrowly short of 50 percent in the first round, suggesting they might stand a chance.
Sunday will also mark the day that Turkey’s constitutional reforms come into force, endowing the president with vast executive powers as approved in a controversial 2017 referendum. The opposition candidates have vowed to roll back the changes and return to parliamentary rule.
If there is a second round, Ince will likely be the one to face off against Erdoğan — an unexpected turn of events, as the president and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had counted on CHP to nominate its mild-mannered leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Kılıçdaroğlu, however, surprised many by choosing Ince, an outspoken MP known for criticizing his own party. It was a shrewd choice for CHP: Unlike most secular politicians, Ince has proven capable of reaching out to voters beyond the party’s base.
Unlike most secular politicians, Ince has proven capable of reaching out to voters beyond the party’s base.
Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations said of him: “But Ince — he’s not elite, he’s a village kid, he knows how to ride a tractor. His mother wears a headscarf. So, he cannot be labelled as an elite hard-line secularist. That makes it difficult for Erdoğan to attack him,”
Erdoğan is still a force to be reckoned with. But in stark contrast to previous elections, the president has run a lackluster campaign plagued by gaffes — from a malfunctioning teleprompter to gifting the opposition its slogan of tamam (“enough”) when he pledged to step down should voters tell him “enough.”
Ince and his fellow opposition candidate Meral Akşener, the nominee of the center-right Iyi Party, are increasingly setting the tone of the campaign. When both Ince and Akşener decided not to appear on TRT state television, Erdoğan followed suit.
When Ince declared he would lift the two-year-old state of emergency if elected, Erdoğan — who had previously insisted that the emergency law was necessary for Turkey’s security — pledged to do so, too.
And while Erdoğan hopes to win over voters with a nationalist agenda, blaming Turkey’s economic problems on Western meddling and emphasizing the threat of terrorism, the opposition has run a campaign marked by a sense of hope.
Ince, who has accused Erdoğan of creating a “society of fear,” has crisscrossed the country promising democracy and rule of law, a stable economy and greater freedoms. At his rallies, he has charmed voters by dancing and cycling on stage.
Recent polls suggest Ince may score between 20 percent and 30 percent of votes in the first round, with Erdoğan between 45 percent and 48 percent (though a few surveys put him at above 50 percent). Akşener’s vote share is projected between 9 percent and 15 percent.
Though only a few analysts predict a narrow victory for Erdoğan, a second round would see a closely fought race.
Dilara, a 19-year-old first-time voter who attended Ince’s event in Üsküdar, said she sees the CHP candidate as “fresh blood” for the opposition.
“I’ve never seen Üsküdar like this,” she said. “Things are changing. There’s a chance — a small chance — he can win in the second round.”
Like many voters, Dilara counted Turkey’s economic troubles among her chief concerns. Double-digit inflation, rising unemployment and the plummeting lira pose major threats to Erdoğan’s plans for reelection, given his promise of continued growth.
Where the opposition stands a real chance is in the parliamentary election, where they are threatening the AKP’s majority, thanks to an unlikely alliance between secularists, Islamists and nationalists.
The Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been left out of the alliance, but Ince has gained popularity among Kurdish voters with his inclusive approach.
Ince has visited HDP’s imprisoned candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, in jail — a risky undertaking that exposed him to accusations of sympathizing with terrorists — and pledged to support Kurdish-language education.
His overtures are paying off: Last week, a large crowd welcomed him in the Kurdish city Diyarbakır — a rare feat for a lawmaker from CHP, the party responsible for Turkey’s historical repression of Kurds
The Kurdish vote may prove crucial. The AKP will only lose its majority if HDP surpasses the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament. Opposition parties are also vying for the vote of conservative Kurds, who have favored AKP and Erdoğan in the past.
“Kurdish voters are key,” said Baris Yarkadas, a CHP MP for Istanbul. “Whoever the Kurds vote for in the second round will become president.”
With just days remaining before the elections, opposition parties and their supporters are growing bolder. Saturday’s Üsküdar rally resembled a festival, with families picnicking on the grass and vendors hawking cotton candy.
Optimism abounded, as well as a sense of unity. Aside from staunch CHP supporters, many first-time voters and even supporters of other parties were in attendance. Some waved HDP and Iyi Party flags.
“It’s a different atmosphere this time,” said Deniz Uludağ, 39, who was at the rally with her siblings. “I think the government, they’re a little bit afraid.”